Carter Baran makes dreamlike and colorful cinematic photographs

“It’s great fun to see how the light interacts,” says young photographer Carter Baran of his concept photographs with bright colors and complex lighting. Being gifted with a fog machine a few years ago led him to create photographs that look like stills from sci-fi movies and TV shows. At only 19 years old, he is creating an important portfolio of images that is sure to take him into the future.

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Two-tone lighting in photographs is a technique that can really set your images apart from the competition. I first noticed this in landscape images, but it’s just as effective in portraits, as Carter Baran demonstrates in this interview. Getting one color for the highlights and a balanced/opposite color for the shadows is one way to try this. If you have a good understanding of color wheel theory, this can be very helpful.

Essential camera gear used by Carter Baran

The Phoblographer: Hi Carter. Tell us about yourself and how you came to photography.

Carter Baran: I’m a 19 year old Canadian photographer, love to hike and explore the outdoors, and started bringing a camera to capture some of nature’s beauty. Over time, my style moved away from the nature/travel aesthetic and took on a more surrealist approach.

The Phoblographer: What camera equipment do you use for these photos?

Carter Baran: I use a Sony A7iii and almost exclusively use a Zeiss 35mm f1.4 lens. I’ve always been a fan of prime lenses because of the sharpness of the images, and I love the challenge of trying to build a composition within the confines of the defined field of view. Nanlite has been my primary source of lighting gear, and my favorite lights would have to be the Pavotube II 15x; a versatile and robust light tube with Bluetooth capabilities, as well as the Litolite 5c; an affordable, small and powerful light that I can carry in my pocket.

The Phoblographer: There is a cold, almost nocturnal feel to most of your work. Where does this visual style come from?

Carter Baran: From the start of my photography career, I knew I wanted to pursue a more minimalist approach. When shooting at night, I am able to decide what deserves attention in a scene and isolate it from everything around by using selective lighting.

The Phoblographer: It’s almost always a single subject in these photos. Is it a projection of some inner feelings of loneliness?

Carter Baran: To be honest, until recently I was just using what I had at my disposal. I get super excited when I come up with a new concept and try to capture it as soon as possible! This meant I was on my own for many photo shoots, and it became a fun challenge to see everything I could accomplish entirely on my own.

The Phoblographer: I see a lot of images where the subject is unrecognizable (face diverted or hidden by something). What is the meaning of this recurring element in your work?

Carter Baran: I don’t want my work to have a clear meaning. I usually hide facial expressions because it gives people the ability to project their own thoughts into the image, and I think that’s super cool.

The Phoblographer: A lot of complex (almost cinematic) lighting seems to be involved. How long does it take to set up and produce these photographs?

Carter Baran: I would say that lighting a scene usually takes me between 30 minutes and 2 hours! Especially when I’m alone and have to run between the camera and the lights a dozen times to make sure they’re where I need them.

The Phoblographer: Regarding one of your most complex images in terms of creation, explain the process and explain the feeling of satisfaction you had once the photo was finished.

Carter Baran: My ‘Pink Floyd – Wish You Were HereThe inspirational photoshoot with Karl Ndieli was probably one of the most exciting photoshoots I’ve done. We woke up before sunrise, dressed in tuxedos and set ourselves on fire! It took a few takes but the result was so amazing, definitely a memorable experience!

The Phoblographer: The rays of light play an important role, not only to illuminate the scene, but also to serve as a visual anchor. Where do you find these ideas to present them in a unique way in different photos?

Carter Baran: I received a fog machine as a Christmas present from my mother in 2020, and since then I have been obsessed with volumetric lighting! I want light to play as big of a role as my model, and being able to shape light has been a game changer, it’s great fun to see how light interacts with different objects, and I plan to do even more technical experiences in the future.

The Phoblographer: Do you refer to complementary colors on the color wheel when styling these images, or do you just go with what suits the scene (when color grading)?

Carter Baran: Generally, I choose what works for me, but I’ve always been drawn to complementary combinations of orange and teal, as well as blue and yellow. If I have enough time, I like to do the same shoot with several colors and choose my favorite combination when editing.

The Phoblographer: What popular movies or TV shows have inspired your style?

Carter Baran: For TV shows, I have to say that Stranger Things really influenced my photography. When it comes to movies, movies like Interstellar, Dune, Blade Runner 2049, Inception, and all things Marvel are great sources of inspiration.

All images by Carter Baran. Used with permission. Check out her website and Instagram page to see more of her work.

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